Social Media - Promising to B2B Marketers

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Social media can be leveraged for B2B marketing too. Some questions that  may strike you are - whether potential B2B buyers are present online? Do they spend time online? Do they use social media either for personal or professional purposes? Do they subscribe to podcasts, stay connected online (through instant messaging); build contacts via social networking sites (SNS); participate in online forums, etc? Answers for all these questions is ‘Yes.’ There was a notion that 'users of social networking sites and other forms of social media are young, and hence best fit for marketing GenX consumer products only.' This notion no longer holds today. Supporting this, several developments in social media space were noted. Nielsen online customer analytics (2008) observed that composition of member community websites is shifting from the young to the old. Significant number of Internet users above age 35 and baby boomers are using social media and networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Toolbox, Slideshare, etc. This trend is reaching behind the corporate firewalls.

There was also a shift noticed in the usage of social media - from 'purely personal' to both personal and professional use. Business professionals are using social media to develop personal contacts; connect with potential members and partners to communicate and make decisions (LinkedIn, Plaxo, etc.,); collaborate with knowledge communities to generate knowledge through open interaction (Toolbox); share best practices and insights (Slideshare); search job, source talent, etc. These trends are offering potential opportunities to B2B firms for reaching prospective customers, promoting relations and marketing their products and services via social media.

Tailor Sales Strategy to Segment

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In B2B space where direct marketing is generally practiced, sales approach should be defined based on characteristics and behaviors of segments. Especially in technology marketing, the selling organization should be defined suitably to handle different segments. For example, When Hewlett-Packard’s Customer Sales Organization (CSO) observed that groups of its enterprise customers across industries shared common characteristics; it forced a deep-rooted overhaul of its traditional regional sales approach to sell computers and IT infrastructure. It has reorganized the sales organization from region-specific to customer-focused, yet focused on maximizing sales efficiency and customer value by re-engineering its sales process. HP divided its sales organization into three teams (Red, Green and Blue) to handle enterprise, business and individual customers respectively. It deployed sales personnel with deep industry knowledge to handle large enterprise customers.

As technologies become commodities, the sales strategy should embrace solution selling. Besides, pre-sales relationships should be built with prospects to gain edge over competitors. B2B sales teams, therefore, should invest time in developing early relationships with potential firms. Leveraging it, sales personnel should play the role of consultant - should help diagnose problem(s) and at the right time,
offer right solution(s). When enterprise customers showed signs of volume shifting, HP transformed its sales approach from product selling to solution selling. It trained its designated sales force to better understand customer’s unique problems and take the consultant route to sell integrated solution, rather selling product. Of course, HP’s CSO had to fundamentally rethink the way it needs to project its sales personnel and re-engineer sales processes to optimize operating efficiency and enhance the return on productive selling time.

Whether market initiated or opportunistic sales opportunities,
B2B firms should explore how they can customize their sales approach to match with segment's profile, experience, confidence, etc. In doing so, measures should be taken so that each sales approach ensures higher operating efficiency and customer value. For example, HP’s CSO tailored unique sales strategies to win different enterprise segments viz., repurchase (potential re-buy market), replacement (enterprises leaning to HP dissatisfied with other vendors), expansion (enterprises willing to involve HP in development projects) and innovation (enterprises expecting help in defining need and developing solution). For instance, HP’s CSO adopted a sales strategy of meeting customer specifications of features, price and delivery terms while being available at right time (relationship approach) to win repurchase segment. While product selling is pursued in repurchase and replacement segments, solution selling is practiced in expansion and innovation segments recognizing the perceived difference in customers’ knowledge and confidence on vendor(s). Further, HP’s CSO tailored a four-stage sales process for the first three project types and a five-stage selling process for innovation projects to contain operating costs and maximize customer value.

When client firm offer potential business value, extra care is needed in devising B2B selling strategy. The sales approach, either all-at-once (ATO) or foot-in-the-door (FITD) i.e., capturing downstream business of an enterprise customer first and later migrating to midstream and upstream business opportunities -- should be chosen considering customer firms' relationship values and behaviors. But when all-at-once sales approach is adopted, sales organization should ensure that required resources and competencies matches with corresponding business opportunity streams. Earlier Hewlett-Packard’s CSO had to shift from the foot-in-the-door (FITD) to all-at-once sales approach. This change was initiated after recognizing that factors viz., functional walls within the account, HP’s image as hardware supplier, purchasing community’s interest to control pricing, IT community’s desire to control vendor relationships, top executives reluctance to expand for advisory relationships -- all acted as hindrances when HP’s sales force made attempts to capture midstream and/or upstream business opportunities despite having the required competencies.

How to be Ethical in E-Mail Marketing

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In B2C and B2B businesses, E-mail marketing has become prevalent today, thanks to Internet. Though it is practiced in consumer and business markets, the need to bank heavily on direct marketing by B2B firms gives more room for unethical e-mail marketing practices. Several business marketers have misled the e-mail practice due to competitive pressures. Ideally permission-based marketing is ethical and legal. But under pressure, some B2B firms are embracing unethical practices like presumed opt-in in their web-site landing pages. By doing so firms are rather hitting nails to their own coffins. Though e-mail promotional content is sent to many, only true prospects will show interest. Others would either report abuse or report spam, and eventually unsubscribe locking access to them permanently. Whereas true prospects will continue to subscribe as they feel so. Besides failing to convert, firms may loose established contacts, referrals and future prospects of other products. So attempts to reach many via presumed opt-in way not only prove unethical, but also go in vain. E-mail promotions, therefore, should be based on fairly received subscriptions.

Website visitors should not be mislead with practices like presumed opt-in. They shall be suitably prompted for self opt-in. Interactive marketing should be practiced to motivate visitors for self opt-in. When visitors land into web pages, immediately plunging into interaction can allow marketers understand and appraise their problems. The process may eventually convert the visitors to self opt-in. It is not only ethical and legal, but effective too as it targets the right and guarantee the sales without paying price in the form of lost relationships. B2B marketers can attract visitors and know who they are by designing website landing pages. When visitors come to these landing pages, online marketing team should plunge into discussion with visitors through a specially designed interactive program like how a marketing software company 'Eloqua' did with its popular campaign called 'Conversation.' During the course of informal interaction, marketers should try to understand and discover what visitors actually need and why they have visited the landing webpage. Based on the knowledge gained, if required marketers can make different proposals. If marketer discovers that visitor could be a future prospect, then he/she can be motivated to share contact details and persuaded to subscribe to the e-mail promotional letters.

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